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What will it take for J.R. Smith to become an elite player?

JR Smith is easily one of my favorite players in basketball. Dude is an enigma, but it’s more in a puzzling sense than it being mysterious.

When you look at the man, you can’t help but pay attention; the theatrics, the gazillion accessories he wears on the court, and the endless supply of tattoos contribute to his appearance. He looks no different than some cats I hang with on a regular basis, and some of my boys from back home. However, what is seen at surface level pales in comparison to what this man is capable of being on the court.

He’s a man who has enough talent, natural ability, and pure skill to win a three-point contest and a dunk contest during All-Star weekend. If you’ve seen his dunks in Dunk Contests Past, or seen him get hot from behind the arc in a game, you know it’s the truth. How many other players can fans honestly say that about? When he’s on, he’s one of the most amazing players in The League to watch. The man is a good ball-handler, and when he wants to play defense, he does a pretty good job there as well.

He’s the guy back home that everyone has seen at least once in their life: super-talented, incredibly gifted, and ends up being the only thing that stops them from being one of the greatest players the town has ever seen. He ends up becoming an urban legend, the topic of discussion in the barbershop by folks like myself, the barbers, and folks waiting for a haircut, and sure enough, there’s a super-old man, an elder statesman, the one who's seen it all, sitting in his chair in the corner, shaking his head, and muttering to everyone in the shop, but no one in particular, “that boy aint worth a damn.”

There have been games where you think this dude is one of the best players in the world. He’ll talk greasy to Kobe Bryant, go out there and guard him, and come back on the other end and attack him with no fear at all. It’s one thing for a player to do that; hell, you’re not supposed to be scared of anyone, but it’s another thing when a player knows he’s good and does it, and that’s who JR Swish is.

With all that said, I’ve never seen a player more erratic, more maddening to watch, and more conflicted than JR Swish. There’s no earthly reason he should ever be on the bench in crunch time, unless he’s in street clothes, got kicked out of the game, or unless he fouled out. His behind should be on the court, but there are so many examples of the Nuggets leaving him on the side to watch things unfold, when he’s more than capable enough to being a contributing factor to winning a ball game.

It’s obvious that his coach doesn’t trust him, and while it frustrates me to no end when he’s on the bench, there’s a significant part of me that understands where George Karl is coming from. There’s no logical defense for a man to destroy every opponent in sight in one game, and then completely go to hell the next. Trust me, I’ve defended JR Swish for years, and will continue to do so, but there are times when some things are simply indefensible, and some of his madness certainly borders on just that.

The All-Star Game is on Sunday night, and I won’t be surprised if he’s there, but he’s gonna be there the same way Puffy, Snoop, Jack Nicholson, Denzel, and other fans will be there. He’ll be there, because he bought a ticket, got him a seat, and sat on down. However, the man is better than that. The man has legitimate All-Star talent, and has all the ability in the world to be an elite player.

I pray for the day that he realizes just how dope he is on the court, and decides to put it all together, get out of his own way, and become of the 10-15 best players this League has. If not, it’ll end up simply being another story about a super-talented player we all knew but ended up being his own worst enemy.

Be easy.
-K. Masenda
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